Changing Woman and Her Sisters by Katrin Hyman Tchana

Rating: 5 of 5

From the same mother-daughter team who brought us The Serpent Slayer: And Other Stories of Strong Women. You won’t find the oft regurgitated Greek goddesses.

Instead, Changing Woman and Her Sisters: Stories of Goddesses From Around the World, tales retold by Katrin Hyman Tchana and illustrated by her mom, Caldecott Medal Winner Trina Schart Hyman, celebrates lesser-known goddesses from cultures all over the world, including the Navajo people, the Inuit people, the Mayans, ancient China, Japan, Sumer (modern-day Iraq), India and more!

Each tale begins with the goddesses name, place of origin, and brief historical context. Many of the tales read like Creation myths and often explain how that goddess came to be. Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations are atypical; instead of her customary linework, she felt inspired to use collage for the first time. She used materials from around her house – like garden seeds, fleece from her sheep, and cropped photographs of kids she knew – combined with acrylics, ink and glue. The result is illustrations with layers, depth, and new treasures to discover each time they’re viewed.

The bibliography will be a source of solid leads for anyone wanting to do additional reading on any of the goddesses. Plus, the Author’s and Artist’s note lend helpful context to both the retold tales and their illustrations. I sincerely appreciate Katrin Hyman Tchana sharing with us her inspiration and motivation: to write a book in which her African American sons could see people who looked like them.

Highly recommended to any reader looking for a collection of lesser-known female goddesses/ deities with the majority being from non-European countries.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales

Rating: 4 of 5

From the Introduction: “From the woods to the stars, join us on eighteen extraordinary journeys into unexpected territories, uncharted lands, and unforeseen experiences. Welcome to an adventure that’s strangely familiar and startlingly different at the same time. You’re likely to emerge changed, but isn’t that the way it is with all the best stories?”

My thoughts: An excellent anthology with lovely, intricate illustrations. (Take a peek at a few on the illustrator’s website.) Most times with collections I’m prepared to trudge through at least a handful of the stories that don’t quite WOW me. Not the case with The Starlit Wood; only one failed to hold my attention, and I’m sure that’s more to do with my personal tastes than its quality or mass appeal. I also loved reading the Author’s Note that followed each story.

There are stories that read like a traditional fairy tale and stories that lean more heavily toward fantasy/ sci-fi / western inspired by fairy tales. Having that blend of cross-genre tales really gives this anthology the extra oomph often overlooked in collections.

There was a tie for my favorite: Kat Howard‘s “Reflected” and Stephen Graham Jones‘ “Some Wait.” Naomi Novik‘s “Spinning Silver” was a close runner-up.

Highly recommend to fairy-tale enthusiasts on the hunt for original retellings.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Table of Contents (with original tale, hidden in case you want to be surprised):

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Rating: 4.5 of 5

Synopsis: “When unattended environmental and economic crises lead to social chaos, not even gated communities are safe. In a night of fire and death Lauren Olamina, a minister’s young daughter, loses her family and home and ventures out into the unprotected American landscape. But what begins as a flight for survival soon leads to something much more: a startling vision of human destiny… and the birth of a new faith.” (source)

My thoughts: My first time reading anything by Octavia Butler. What took me so long?!!

Parable of the Sower is a frightening depiction of civilization’s decline in the aftermath of environmental and economic crises. From page one I was ready for the worst, on edge the entire journey. The night Lauren’s home was invaded was horrific. Yet underneath the brutality was hope.

Lauren is now in my top five female protagonists in a post-apocalyptic / dystopian setting. Her hyperempathy intrigued me: the notion of being extremely sensitive to the feelings of others, to the point of bleeding if others are injured, has been one I’ve always wanted to see explored more often in fiction. Lauren is also exactly the kind of friend I would want: smart, straightforward, loyal unless you break her trust, rational, resourceful, and not overly sentimental or emotional.

The only aspect of the story with which I did not connect was Earthseed, the new religion that Lauren created. However, I respected her for sticking to her beliefs while at the same time building a community with the strangers she encountered on her mission. She didn’t force Earthseed on these newcomers but she also didn’t shy away from a discussion with naysayers.

Addresses (still) current issues like race, gender and class as well as the environment, privatization, and digitization. This book would be an excellent discussion starter. For example, I kept thinking about people of color who have already suffered in real life what the fictional Lauren and the people of her gated community experienced: their loved one leaving home for work or school to have them “vanish,” never seeing them again, never knowing what happened to them, having to assume they’d been killed… This is not a fun read but it’s fast-paced, filled with real people, and explores a world we should all take a closer look at. Especially given the 2016 presidential candidate who seems ripped from the pages of this story’s “government.”

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Advantageous (2015)

Rating: 8 of 10

movie poster Advantageous (2015)Explores the pressures faced by working single moms in a futuristic society that values beauty and wealth over everything else.

Synopsis: “Set in the near future, ADVANTAGEOUS focuses on Gwen Koh (Jacqueline Kim), a single mother, whose aspirations for her daughter drive her to the precipice of a fraught decision…

Gwen works as a spokesperson for the Center for Advanced Health and Living (an innocuous sounding organization that is, in fact, a corporate behemoth) and finds that she is in danger of losing her job. That would make it impossible for her to send her daughter Jules to private school, a termed “advantage” that in actuality is more a necessity to shield Jules from this future society’s brutal economic disparities. The Center’s newest and untested health procedure offers Gwen a dangerous, life-altering chance to continue her career. To weigh her options, Gwen attempts to reconnect with an estranged relative, but as seems standard for all in this dystopian landscape, Gwen remains alienated and alone.” (source)

My thoughts: I freaking LOVED this movie. When it was over I wanted to talk about it with someone so bad; alas, no one around. Jacqueline Kim should’ve at least been nominated for an Oscar. From a non-actor perspective it seems to me that over-the-top performances would be the simplest. But what Kim does in ADVANTAGEOUS is so…quiet yet fierce.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed movies like EX MACHINA, BRANDED or ANTIVIRAL.

Check out ADVANTAGEOUS official website and trailer | on IMDb

(Watched on Netflix 10/18/2015)